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Ask TUAW: Syncing photos, compressing and transferring large files, virtual printers, and more

Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about syncing photo libraries, compressing and transferring large files, creating a virtual PDF printer, increasing screen readability, and more.

As always, your suggestions and questions are welcome. Leave your questions for next week in the comments section at the end of this post. When asking a question, please include which machine you're using and what version of Mac OS X is installed on it (we'll assume you're running Snow Leopard on an Intel Mac if you don't specify).

Ben asks

I have a large iPhoto library and multiple macs in multiple locations. What is the best online solution to put my library online so that I can view/download/upload my pictures from any computer anywhere? I am looking for something that I can host on my own site for security if possible not a shutterfly type solution. I also do not have nor want a .mac account.

My initial thought is that the best way to share an iPhoto library between different macs is with Dropbox; I even found a handy tutorial. This would cost something ($9.99 per month for 50 GB / $19.99 for 100 GB), but would be nearly seamless. Unfortunately, it doesn't meet your requirement of running on your own server. But if you really want to do that I don't think you'll really be able to continue using iPhoto. (In principle you might do it with a network disk, but I suspect you'd find the performance hit unacceptable.)

If all you want to do is host a bunch of photos on your own server you might check out Gallery which is a server-based PHP application that offers various photo organizing and sharing features. Naturally, you could access that from any of your Macs.


Pat asks

I have a third party database application running on 4D that prints records to attached printers without going through the Mac OS X print dialog window (it brings up a software specific dialog that allows font and font size selection as well as which types of records to print). This is running on a Mac Mini with OS 10.4.11 installed. I would like to print to a pdf file but my application won't give me the built in print to pdf option. I can select different printers in page setup. Is there a Mac OS X pdf engine that can be installed like a print driver that appears in my page setup dialog box that the database will recognize?

What you need is CUPS-PDF. You might want to grab a slightly older version for your OS X 10.4 machine, but it will create a virtual printer that you should be able to select within the print dialog. When you do that it dumps your "prints" as PDFs into a folder on your Desktop.


Nirgal asks

I recently was faced with the need to compress an approximately 50 Gig file, so that I can send it by FTP in less than 10,000 years. I know about the built-in compress utility in Leopard/Snow Leopard, command-line options like tar, gzip, and cpio, and StuffIt and other 3rd party apps. My question is, are any of these options noticeably faster than the others? And, in general, are there any advantages to using StuffIt instead of the built-in file compression in OS X?

You certainly don't need to bother with StuffIt, which is more of an artifact of the Mac past than really relevant these days. Frankly, what I would suggest is that you use RAR. In addition to good compression performance, RAR also allows you to break up big files into several smaller files, each of which is easier to upload/download. In fact, if you also includes some PAR files, you'll also get an automated recovery method if something becomes corrupted along the ways.

There are several Mac RAR utilities like UnRarX and RAR Expander, but if you want to use PAR files you'll probably want MacPAR deLuxe.


Maxintech asks

Is there a way to record the sound coming from iphone to computer? I'm recording a tutorial for a game and in certain parts of the game are played simultaneous sounds which difficult to put the sound manually when editing the video. I recorded others tutorials and muted the original video and synchronized the sound manually, but in this case is impracticable.

I think you could simply use a 1/8" audio patch cable from the iPhone. For the best results I'd use the output from an iPhone dock (or similar) to the line in. If you don't have a line in on your Mac, you may need a USB audio interface like the iMic from Griffin.


iGO asks

Is there a setting to make all the system Fonts, Menu's, Text, LARGER, globally? We don't wish to change the native resolution, which displays everything beautifully, but the native resolution display (1920x1200) makes everything too small.

While there has been lots of talk about resolution independence in OS X, it has not yet appeared as general feature. With TinkerTool you can adjust some of the default font settings in OS X. Unfortunately, it will not affect things like the menubar font. While it's not entirely practical she could also use the zoom feature when necessary. Once turned on in the Universal Access Preference Pane it allows you to zoom in on the part of the screen under the mouse cursor if you hold down the Control key and scroll (with a mouse scroll wheel or even two-fingers on the trackpad). Other than that, I'm afraid you would actually have to change the screen resolution to make everything appear bigger.

Josh asks

I have a 27" iMac and a new Mac Mini both running 10.6.2. Is it possible to use Target Display Mode and something like Teleport or Synergy to control the Mini? Or is a second, separate display - directly attached to the Mini - needed?

While, in principle, I think you could do that I suspect you'd be better off to run the Mac mini headless and just use Screen Sharing to control it. If you turn on Screen Sharing in Sharing Preference Pane on the mini (and the mini is on the same network as the iMac) you should see it in the Finder sidebar on the iMac and easily be able to connect to it. If necessary you could connect the mini to the iMac in Target Display Mode in order to set it up and from then on just use Screen Sharing.



Welcome back to Ask TUAW, our weekly troubleshooting Q&A column. This week we've got questions about syncing photo libraries,...